One-Dimensional Characters

Ever have a character who enters a scene and just kind of stands there with no real purpose? Characters who are affected by their environment but have on impact on anything? Or perhaps a character you love but comes across as not relatable or unlikable?

If so your writing may be suffering from floating head syndrome a.k.a. one-dimensional characters. I love Tyler, main character’s Image via Clipart Libraryboyfriend  in my current WIP Blink. I have a picture of him plastered on my wall right next to Lexi’s (note: clipart used in this post is totally NOT Tyler), but for some reason in his first scene he had no impact. Surely he had a purpose for showing up beyond soothing Lexi. I revised it to include a quick impression of Tyler from Lexi’s POV. Although a detailed description of his clothing doesn’t appear in the manuscript, it gave clues to his personality and how he moved. Some characters walk. Others saunter. Tyler strolls. More importantly, I complicated the scene by bringing up Tyler’s goal – to find his runaway brother. Since Lexi has a missing uncle, the tie in not only works, it reveals information about Tyler’s family life as well as his relationship with Lexi.

I think this is one of the most important ways to correct floating head syndrome: give each character a goal, even if it never appears in the manuscript, because goals strongly influence action/behavior.  Adding unique mannerism/traits to characters gives them extra depth and can also help readers figure out who’s talking without you telling them. One of my favorite resources for this is Writer’s Guide to Character Traits by Dr. Linda Edelstein. Give characters a unique voice. Everyone has a different rhythm in the way they speak, a preference of one word over another or the amount of words they use.

These are just a few suggestions on creating dynamic characters. Do floating heads pop up in your writing? What methods do you use to fix them?

4 comments on “One-Dimensional Characters

  1. lbdiamond says:

    Great post! I like how you point out each character should have a goal–great strategy!!! 😀

  2. Marsha Lytle says:

    This is some really good information. I just read six contest entries and some of them could have used your advice.

  3. Thanks Marsha. Even though I consider myself an experienced writer, I still suffer from floating head syndrome every now and then. The important thing is I recognize and treat it now. 🙂

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